LGBT Veterans Are Waiting For a Big Supreme Court Decision Next Week

June 19th 2015

Isabel Evans

For LGBT veterans and their families, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage next week could solve one of the biggest problems with the Department of Veteran Affairs’ federal benefits program for veterans, dependents, and survivors.

Due to federal law restrictions, the VA currently does not extend veteran benefits to same-sex couples or their children if they live in states where gay marriage is illegal. Legislation proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), which would have ensured that all veterans receive their rightful benefits regardless of what state they reside in, failed on June 4 in the Senate, falling seven votes short of the required 60.

With this recent setback, LGBT veterans and advocates are depending on the high court’s upcoming ruling, which could make state bans against same-sex marriage obsolete.

“We’re pretty much hoping that the Supreme Court will fix the problem. I’m optimistic. Most people I’ve talked to are optimistic,” said Danny Ingram, National President Emeritus for American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER). If the Supreme Court votes no on gay marriage, the situation is more difficult, although Ingram notes that there are a few other court cases working their way through the system that could also get this issue resolved.

It’s understandable why advocates are so eager for the Supreme Court ruling to work in favor of LGBT veteran families. Spouses and children who are denied VA benefits because they live in a state that does not recognize gay marriage do not have access to crucial veteran benefits such as education, life insurance, disability compensation, healthcare, and for spouses, even the right to be buried together in a veterans’ cemetery. Often, same-sex spouses will move from a state where their marriage was recognized to one where it is not and suddenly be horrified to learn that they’ve lost their VA benefits. Ingram calls this “the worst case scenario.”

“A huge aspect of military service is the benefits that you get… it’s really unfortunate that they’re available to some but not to others based on the states they live in,” he adds.

Sen. Shaheen re-iterated the necessity of equal benefits for all veterans, regardless of their sexual orientation or what state they live in. In an article for the Huffington Post four days after her amendment did not receive enough votes in the senate, she wrote:

“…Combat veterans are being denied their rights because of whom they love and where they live. In one reported case, a 50-percent-disabled combat veteran was initially approved for benefits for her wife and child but was later told by the Veterans Administration that she would not only lose a portion of her benefits but would also have future payments withheld to repay benefits already received.”

Stories like these illustrate yet again why the stakes are so high for the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, which is expected to be announced by the end of June.